Opinion: On proposed changes to cemetery policies

Jan 22, 2024

To the editor: 

Dear Members of The Board of Selectman and Cemetery Commission,

After reading the recent article in Sippican Week regarding proposed changes to cemetery rules that the boards are considering and spending much time reflecting and researching, I am writing this letter on behalf of my family.

One cannot look at proposed changes to rules that have been in place that regard burial plots purchased by citizens without looking behind the veil of grief and honored burial traditions.

I am just one story in hundreds, perhaps thousands of stories buried in the sacred grounds of the Marion Town cemeteries. We had moved to Marion in 2014 as what we planned would be our retirement home. We moved to the Piney Point neighborhood and we enjoyed nine years there with our growing family visiting. We, as so many others who lose family members, were in total shock and heartache when Peter passed. As we realized that we would need to bury our husband, father, grandfather instead of planning the next family adventure, my family did what many families do, we honored him, we chose a traditional funeral allowing others to honor him and we buried him in our chosen home town of Marion.

When I came to the town office to purchase a burial plot for my husband, I came with my daughter and granddaughters. We choose a spot in the Ryder Lane (Old Landing 2nd Addition) cemetery off of Route 6 under a shady tree, where we could visit and drive by each day. That day was so bittersweet to see two young granddaughters help their grandmother and mother choose where their Gramps would be buried, walking the spots available before choosing his final resting place.

Honoring our dead and mourning their lives has a rich and long history. Decorating our gravesites goes back to ancient Greece and can be found as early as 2,000+ years ago. In the time of Jesus, the body of the dead was careful oiled with scents and wrapped. You can Google for yourself the history behind decorating graves with flowers, trinkets, letters and more. In this country the tradition of decoration of graves gained prominence after the death of Abraham Lincoln and our own current Memorial Day celebration was born out of placing flowers on the graves of soldiers that had died in the Civil War.

To decorate a loved one’s final resting spot is a way to personalize this place. This personalization is a way to aid in the grieving process. Grieving the loss of a loved one is the most universal and unique pain a person and family can experience. The boards (Selectman and Cemetery Commission Board members) should consider ways to support those who grieve and share a common humanity, not force their subjective views on appropriate decorations. For a member to use the phrase “it’s not an amusement park, but it’s not an arboretum either” is the most insensitive and inflammatory comment of this whole story.

When I purchased my double plot, I received two documents. One from Margie Baldwin, stating I had paid the treasury for the two lots. There was no information about grave decorations or tributes included in that statement nor was any information given to me when I purchased my plots. I received another document from Katherine Milligan, Treasurer acknowledging receipt of an additional $400, that states “the Town agrees to perpetually invest and reinvest this sum in trust. This investment shall be used solely for the perpetual care and maintenance of the grass or sod at the cemetery plot” I have paid for in Old Landing 2nd Addition Cemetery. I will not go down the road, in this letter, to open up for discussion the care and maintenance or lack there of at the Town Cemeteries. I can provide that information, of course, should the Board want to be better informed on the totality of the current state of its cemeteries before making this substantive change.

As one does before a substantive vote, I have also done some research and found a Supreme Court case (no 17-747) Rose Mary Knick v Township of Scott, ET AL., that in part stated (on page 20) emphasis my own: “the land is dedicated as a cemetery by use of the property for cemetery purposes--the burial of human remains in or on the property. Such a dedication “is a privilege or a license, not only to bury the dead…, but also the right of the living to place monuments or suitable decorations over the graves of their dead as memorials and to preserve and beautify the premises.”

In moving this discussion to an open forum, I applaud the Selectmen so that policies transparent to all who have loved ones buried in Marion. Again, I am appalled by the town’s cemetery commission’s insensitive and inflammatory statements including Ms. Baldwin’s additional comment “I appreciate your bending over backwards to let people know what’s going on, but our point is these are not big changes.” The proposed changes reported in the story are indeed big changes as there were no restrictions laid out to me or others when we purchased our plots. The insensitivity of these statements is unimaginable as a person who will grieve the loss of my husband, my children’s father and grandchildren’s Gramps until the day I am laid to rest next to him. The ability to memorialize and remember him with flowers and yes sometimes artificial ones that will not wither and die in the harsh summer heat or cold winter, is my family’s right and a long-held tradition in our country. The ability for my granddaughter all of five years old to want to go to the grave and put a stone she had decorated for him (placed on the base of the stone, not the ground, is a way for her to keep him close. I can’t fathom that she would understand so deeply the pain of grief and the comfort of memorializing more than the town’s cemetery commission or the Board.

I look forward to discussing this in open forum on the 6th of February.

Respectfully submitted
Robin M. Muise (formerly of Cove Circle, Marion)